LeBron James stripped off his jersey, his wrist bands and head band for the Toronto fans as he walked off the Air Canada Centre court yesterday, right after he stripped the Raptors of their dignity.
James exploded for 24 fourth-quarter points, shooting 4-for-5 from beyond the three-point line, to lift the Cleveland Cavaliers to a stunning 93-90 victory over the shell-shocked Raptors. The loss represented the biggest collapse at home in franchise history as the Raptors led by 20 points at one point.
For three quarters, Toronto shooting guard Anthony Parker, who played one of the best all-around games of his NBA career, did a good job containing James, the NBA's leading scorer.
But James took control in the fourth, shooting 8-for-10 from the field and by drawing double-teams, allowed his teammates, particularly Damon Jones and Devin Brown, to get wide open shots. He finished the game with 39 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
James, alone, outscored the Raptors 24-20 in the fourth.
"The hoop felt like the ocean," said James, when asked about his fourth-quarter exploits. "Everything was going right for me and I just feel like I am out there by myself, like in practice when you are by yourself and working out."
Parker said there is little you can do when James starts nailing contested threes.
"Successfully for three quarters I was able to be off of him a little bit and give him a cushion, and it's a little bit easy for me to stay in front of him that way. But once he starts hitting threes, you have to pick your poison," Parker said. "Either you're going to help (double-team him), and let somebody else knock down a three, or you're going to play him straight up and live with that. Either way, they were scoring."
What killed the Raptors almost as much as James' fourth-quarter heroics was Cleveland's work on the boards. The Cavaliers out-rebounded Toronto 52-33 and the 20 offensive boards pulled in by Cleveland represented a season high.
"That was the difference in the game," said the Raptors' Chris Bosh, who finished the game with 23 points and five boards. "Any time a team does that, it's going to be hard to beat them."
The Cavaliers have three excellent rebounders in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao, but their ability to pull down boards is enhanced by the fact that the opponents have to concentrate so much on James with double-teams, it allows his teammates to get in position for offensive boards.
Parker scored 20 points to go along with nine rebounds and four assists, while Jose Calderon picked up a game-high 11 assists, and one turnover in 42 minutes. He had 16 points to notch his 10th double-double of the season.
Rookie small forward Jamario Moon recorded 16 points for Toronto, tying a career high.
Gooden had 10 points and 12 boards for his 12th double-double of the season.
The Raps took a 9-2 lead as Parker had four rebounds and four points in the first five minutes, and extended it to 13-4 on a Moon dunk that brought down the house.
Moon brought down the joint again when he received a beautiful back-door, alley- oop pass from Calderon to put the Raptors ahead 28-14 just before the first quarter ended.
The Raps led 43-33 at the half, despite shooting 4-for-11 from free-throw line.
Cleveland posted 11 turnovers in the half.